Illusion Of Individuality

Two boxers fight in a ring. One falls to his knees. The other triumphs. Do you care which is which? Well, it's unlikely you'd pay good money to watch just one boxer beat himself unconscious. So it takes two.

We can model a boxer in a computer and make the two fighters absolutely identical. Let the starting conditions of the fight - the tiny irregularities in the mat, the difference in the noises from the crowd, the breeze blowing across one fighter's back - determine the outcome. A butterfly's wing would do.

In real life, we are all like these boxers. A thought doesn't care whether it is thought by you or by me. As you read this, your understanding is no different from mine as I write it. We are just boxers, one up, one down. The feeling that you or I am somehow unique, different from all the other yous or Is, this IllusionOfIndividuality, is just a CulturalAssumption, the NamShubOfEnki.


This is perhaps technically true but only in the sense that consciousness is a bona-fide conceptual object of some kind with a "platonic" form some"where", and each individual is an "instance" of this form with some "accidental" qualities like "likes the color red," "longs for his lover," or "occasionally hears whispers in the sounds of machines." There is no reason to believe a priori that consciousness is such a phenomenon and many reasons to believe it is not. For instance, when we open a brain up we do not find a luminous (perhaps invisible) mote of pure concept - we find a messy organic computing device which is manifestly the platform upon which our "consciousnesses" sit. There is no ideal form or identical conceptual object to which all minds are related - if my mind "moves" similarly to yours, that is the accident, an accident of similar construction. The real substance of any consciousness is the rich froth of accumulated information and processes which is, by any sane definition, a mind. The boxer on the ground is, from this point of view, a wildly different object than the one still standing, and both are wildly different from you, the observer. The idea that they might be identical could be called. TheIllusionOfSameness?. -VincentToups


On a sufficient level of abstraction, I agree with you. I also believe that individuality as seen in the media is grossly exaggerated. We are really distinct only in our immediate environment. If someone only gives three or four aspects that make him special (e.g. a family tragedy, a certain unusual education, an accident), I bet there will be lots of people with the same set of experiences.

But I do not agree in general: We are special in our immediate environment. And my understanding of the above sentence (and all of the implied or not implied context) is surely different from yours - though the understanding is sufficiently alike to talk about it. -- GunnarZarncke (see also NearestFittingContext)

I thought that, too. ;-)


A question I've had for a long time...

I see a color, and I call it "red". You look at the same thing, see a color and also call it "red". However, just because we've both been trained to identify our experiences of the same thing as "red", do we really have the same experience? A rose, by the same name, would smell quite differently?

Recently, I heard that researchers have found striking differences in the ratios of the different color-sensing cones in the retinas of different people's eyes, so perhaps we all do experience different "red"s, and without even needing to invoke the differences between our various brains and minds, which surely have even larger implications (unless they don't since we can't really know - I guess that's Phenomenology).

Let's find someone whose left eye differs markedly from their right in that respect, so that they can tell us if they notice any difference between, say, left-eye red and right-eye red.

(As someone with strabismic amblyopia, I can say that each of my eyes detects color differently. One seems to be "warmer" and the other "cooler".)

[Related to this, I highly recommend the writings of neurologists Oliver Sachs and V. S. Ramachandran, who have written extensively on perception, perceptual defects, and the effects of these on cognition.]


Are we really talking about "individuality", or "uniqueness"? The argument seems to be that there is no difference between people. Well, I certainly see a difference between that guy over there, and myself.

As does he. No difference.

Even if we look alike, even if we are alike in every perceivable way, he is him and I am me. I am not him, and he is not me.

That is your representation of the distinction "Me". You represent yourself as "Me". He represents himself as "Me". There is no consistent distinction between your representations of "Me".

Even if we are not unique in any way that would matter to any other observer, we are still individuals, aren't we? -- MikeSmith

Here I write the number "1": 1.

Here I write it again: 1.

These are two representations of the same distinction. WhatsaDistinction?

We are not all alike, although we may fall into largish buckets of commonality, as actuaries can prove. -- PeteHardie

If your concept of individuality relies on the work of actuaries, I suspect this philosophical conversation may prove opaque to you. At least I have no experience of actuaries who question the frame of their statistics

Read what Pete said again. He didn't say individuality relied on the work of actuaries at all. He said actuaries categorize our commonality. -- EricHodges

Actuaries draw distinctions relevant to the function of insurance companies and banks. How are they relevant to individuality?

Actuaries find common properties. Commonality can be seen as the opposite of individuality. That's how they are relevant. -- EH

Interesting. Rather than start with the universe undistinguished and chop it up, start with the universe all distinct, and find commonalities. I need to think on this a bit more - thanks Eric and Pete! -- Pete

De nada -- PeteHardie

So ... how are we more unalike than two waves? Actuaries may make a catalog of waves, big ones, small ones, ones that curl, ones that reflect ... this reflects their distinctions on their observations, not distinctions between the waves - which do all these things over and over.

P.S. The really remarkable thing that actuaries represent to me is that the suicide rate, the result of a very personal, agonizing decision, is very amenable to statistical prediction. -- PeteHardie

Suggesting the IllusionOfIndividuality again?

To some extent, in that we may be unique, but we also follow trends. It may be more that we are subject to external influences, and those influences, being broad in effect, alter our actions more than we credit. -- PeteHardie

How do you distinguish external from internal? Or, for that matter, eternal?

Simply, without sophistry.

I'm sorry, I don't understand. Can you explain that simply, without sophistry?


This is only an illusion if you lack the ability to perceive identity. If we could create 2 cubes that were identical in every measurable way (except their location in space), they wouldn't be one cube. They would be two distinct cubes. Having the same properties doesn't destroy identity. -- EricHodges

I play a note on a piano. I play it again. I play the same note twice. Cubes, notes, WhatsaDistinction?

They aren't the same note. One happened earlier. -- EH

I play one note on a piano. I hear an echo. WhatsaDistinction?

I don't see your point. Are you saying some boxers are echoes of other boxers? -- EH

Boxers make waves. Pianos make waves. I'm trying to draw your distinction. You say if I play twice, that's two distinct notes, but if I play once and there's an echo, then what? Is your distinction in the ear of the listener or the finger of the player?

Neither. It isn't "my" distinction. There's a note and an echo. The distinction exists without a finger or an ear. It's caused by a wave striking your ear, then a reflection of that wave striking your ear.

Without someone to make the distinction, what distinction can there be? Let's say I play through an effects pedal that adds an echo to each note I play. I ask you for your distinction because someone else might make a different one. If you'd like to argue instead that we all make the same distinctions I rather think you're making my argument for me ...

More solipsism. Are you saying the humans create all of the differences between one sound and an echo of that sound? -- EH

I'm not a solipsist. I'm saying you haven't provided a clear distinction between an echo of a note and the same note played twice. If you distinguish a note from the sound of a note I'd like to understand what you mean by that, too.

It's solipsism to suggest that there are no distinctions without someone to make them. You're saying that reality doesn't exist without you. -- EH

No, I'm saying distinctions don't exist without someone to make them. And I'm asking you about the one you're making here. If there's solipsism in doing that, I'm afraid I don't understand it.

As to the origin of a distinction, it doesn't have to be direct perception. For example, my father was red-green colour blind. He couldn't visually distinguish between red and green. But he accepted that distinction when others made it. Colours are distinctions particular to humans - there's a very broad continuum of electromagnetic wavelengths we might distinguish as colours, but we don't. Does that suggest to you that colours exist even though we don't distinguish them? Or rather that we distinguish colours where in reality there are none?


Our [in]ability to distinguish colors neither creates nor destroys those colors; there are some humans who have four color receptors in their eyes rather than three. In other words, they are able to see and distinguish two distinct colors that you and I would view as being the same color.

Nor are colors "particular to humans". There are many insects (such as bees) which are able to distinguish colors in the ultra-violet range.

My personal inability to distinguish certain colors does not mean those colors are not distinct.


Light frequencies exist without humans. We can't distinguish colors that don't exist in reality. The ranges and names of colors are humans' inventions, but the different frequencies exist even if we never see them. -- EH

But you can distinguish colors that don't "exist in reality" here: http://www.johnsadowski.com/big_spanish_castle.php. That sky is a lovely shade of blue I think you'll agree. (<-- You are confusing perception with sensation.)

You aren't serious, are you? -- EH

You're a great boxer EH! If you prefer something a little less fleeting, look closely at the next rainbow you see. That's an illusion created by the refractive properties of gazillions of drops of water. Where are those rainbow colours "in reality"?

In reality, they are the frequencies of light refracted by those gazillions of drops of water. They have those frequencies even when I close my eyes. -- EH

There are many other frequencies they refract. And many plausible distinctions between them. And many disagreeing vantages concerning where the rainbow is anyway. You make your distinctions about the rainbow because of artifacts of your sensory apparatus - the spacing and location of your eyes and the range of sensitivity of the neurons within them. So though there are frequencies galore when you close your eyes, and when you open them, the colours and shapes are distinctions that don't exist without you to make them.

Now solipsism suggests only I exist - and so I can call grey blue if I like. Taoism suggests instead my map of reality is no less generative than your map, that both maps are so interconnected in reality that our notions of disconnectedness and uniqueness are illusory. The Sumerians who apparently originated this notion catalogued between 40 and 100 illusory "me"s, many of which, I note in passing, map neatly onto distinctions you make for yourself on your home page.

And? You're still saying there is no reality but you. If you and I are the same person, or have the same mind, make me drink a Diet Coke. -- EH Reality isn't something we have access to. Every time we see a wave, we ignore the littler ripples on it. And the greater waves of which it forms a part. And the stirring currents beneath the surface of our perception. Reality is deeper and more subtle than mind.

As to diet coke, we don't need to all be identical for individuality to be an illusion. And anyway I hate diet coke. ;-)

But reality still exists, even though we only perceive a tiny part of it, and reality still contains individuals. That isn't an illusion. -- EH

Reality exists? I don't understand how to test that statement. Reality contains individuals ... what are individuals?

It's a bad analogy for boxers, who aren't even waves. If this is just about waves, then you can't step in the same river twice. -- EH

To quantum physics, a boxer behaves as a wave. But this misses the point of the model, which is to suggest that I am not one boxer or the other boxer. I am both. To be one or the other is the illusion.

You aren't either boxer. To think you are both isn't an illusion, it's a delusion. -- EH

AdHominem? I'm suggesting we regard self/other as we would left/right or any other distinction - as a convenience of thought. This is far from the traditional western view, and I'm not surprised if it seems challenging. FWIW I intend no offence.

I'm rejecting your suggestion. It's not challenging, it's inaccurate. There are people who can't distinguish between themselves and others, but they have brain damage. Why would we want to purposefully adopt their handicap? -- EH

Regarding self/other as a left/right style distinction, rather than some unquestionable absolute, admits insights that are otherwise part of a BlubParadox.

How so? -- EH

Because you are free to map self/other using any convenient distinction. Hence, for example, the Buddhists attempt to enlighten themselves by releasing their attachments. Killing Buddha in the road and so on.

Why would I want to do that? -- EH

To end suffering, enjoy harmony, stop the wheel of karma, promote peace and reach nirvana. At least, that's what it says on the wrapper. Also, "light blue touch paper and stand well back".

Sorry, I really like suffering, dissonance, flux, strife and continued existence. Without them, we might as well be dead. Instead of ignoring parts of reality, I want to increase my ability to perceive it. -- EH

Who said anything about ignoring parts of reality?

You did. -- EH

I observed, tautologically, that we are incapable of distinguishing ripples that are too subtle for our ability to observe. I don't recommend you ignore reality - it is inevitable that you do so. Unless, possibly, you invent a http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_Perspective_Vortex ...

Huh? -- EH

Huh? -- Pete

Are you saying that since I can't perceive all of reality then I should pretend I can't perceive individuals? -- EH

I can't see why you'd think that I'm saying that. Please explain.

You say that we should treat individuals as a "convenience of thought", when I can see that individuals exist no matter what I think and that individuality isn't an illusion.

If you watch the leaves fall from a tree you can see them rot, the worms eat them, and the tree resorbs them through its roots to make more leaves. What's the distinction between one leaf and another? Between the leaves and the earth around the tree roots? It all flows around like water. Yet we talk of individual leaves; that's a projection, a limited view of the reality of the tree.

You are asking me to ignore that. When I say I want to perceive more rather than less of reality, you say it is inevitable that I ignore some part of reality. All I can conclude from that is that you think we should give up on perceiving any part of reality because of our inability to perceive all of it. If it isn't what you're saying, then what are you saying? -- EH

I'm saying we're as connected - actually more connected - than the leaves of the tree. You can regard us as individuals, or you can include the connections in your perception and see more, not less, of our reality.

FalseDichotomy. I can regard us as individuals AND include our connections. -- EH

A note and its echoes, sure.

What does that mean? -- EH

"Listen more closely"

No, really. What are you trying to say? -- EH

If you see us as parts of a connected whole, then we seem to be in agreement. If you see us as unique individuals with distinct, unique, discrete connections, then we seem to be in disagreement. I'm not certain what more to say about it.

I have much more access to my thoughts than I do to the thoughts of another person, therefore I am distinct from them. Solipsism is the ultimate in individuality, but so is the idea that we are not distinct (Species solipsism, perhaps?) -- PeteHardie

Species? If you open the game up to UniversalLife then you may as well identify yourself with all of nature - not as some solipsistic godhead, but as a flower on Yggdrasil, attached by Pinero's branches to all the other flowers, and the words buzzing between us like bees.

As to whether you have more access to your thoughts ... as you read this, my thoughts are yours. But they're not my thoughts any more than they are yours - this conversation occurs over and over, a standing wave in the stream of UniversalMind ...

I may think other thoughts you don't, such as this one, and write them down. Reading them, you think them. And so on. We can and do hive off some ideas we don't share. But bubbles and puddles are not unusual behaviours of a river.

But you do not (to my knowledge, at least) have all the thoughts I have in between the readings and writings. We may rendezvous at points, and even those are uncertain, as much wiki text proves. Not all thoughts transmit without error. -- PeteHardie

Ripples collide and splash, droplets flying to rejoin the stream to start more ripples.

"More" ripples? Then they must be different from the other ripples, no? So even your faceless ripples are individuals!

I didn't say there was no illusion. The rainbow is over here. No, wait; now I've moved, it's over there.

But you misleadingly write as if there is a distinction, then claim that the distinction is specious. You can't use "more ripples" if you don't mean 'distinct individual ripples'.

The distinction is specious. The wind and water make the same ripples over and over again. The piano makes the same notes over and over. The combinations vary to make different pieces of music ... but there is only one Beethoven's 9th blooming all over the world, an eternal OdeToJoy.

Feh. You still cheat. You distinguish between "different combinations of notes" yet call all notes the same.

Here's primary yellow. Here's primary blue. Mix 'em together to make green. Do it over and over - it's still green. And I can distinguish green from blue. And from yellow. This is cheating?

You are inconsistent in your terms, and thus your arguments are invalid. If I play all the same notes that are in "Ode to Joy", but in ascending tonality, it is not the same piece of music, despite having the same number of notes, of the same values.

Patterns are composed of relationships between patterns; you may shift the OdeToJoy by octaves and it's still the OdeToJoy. But break the structure of relationships between its notes and it's gone; still that says nothing of its elements.

Pianos never make the same note twice. Listen more closely. -- EH

"Listen more closely."

Your mind may be making your ears squint. Every note is unique. -- EH

How like snowflakes they are!

Snowflakes are not all unique. -- PH

You'll have to take that up with EH - won't get an argument from me.

Everything is unique. No two snowflakes occupy the same space at the same time. -- EH

SchroedingersCat? Cf. superconductivity and so on as well.

What do Schrödinger's cat or superconductivity have to do with the issue? -- EH

Shroedinger: two cats in superposition, one alive and one dead, occupy the same space at the same time. Same goes for snowflakes. As for superconductivity, the quantum wavefunction (or description) of a superconductor is a coherent superposition of paired-electron states. The point being that the cat isn't some mere philosophical figment.

Nope. One possible interpretation of Schrödinger's cat is that the wave function doesn't collapse until observed, but that doesn't put two cats in the box. It just makes the cat's state indeterminate. There's still just one cat. And superconductivity doesn't put two snowflakes in the same place at the same time. You're stretching. -- EH

[For a very good reference about different interpretations of quantum mechanics see http://www.npl.washington.edu/ti/ which also gives a very appealing TransactionalInterpretation to resolve problems esp. with the CopenhagenInterpretation.]

In every one of these interpretations, the cat is NonLocal - multiple universes or smeared out across the universe in space and time. There's not one interpretation in which the superposed cats sit in one place at one time. As to whether there's one cat - well, is there one cat in multiple places and times, or multiple cats in multiple places and times? You tell me.

Did you read the paper? It doesn't say what you think it says. Here's a quote:

"The SV (or OW) does indeed have implicit in it both live cat and dead cat possibilities, but the completed transaction allows only one of these possibilities to become real. Because the collapse does not have to await the arrival of the observer, there is never a time when "the cat is 50% alive and 50% dead". And the need for consciousness, permanent records, thermodynamics, or alternate universes never arises. The 'buck stops' at the absorber, in this case the Geiger counter, and the uncollapsed SV need not be tracked any further."

The transactional interpretation doesn't involve multiple universes or cats smeared out across space-time. There is one cat and it is either alive or dead.

-- EricHodges

In any case, this refutes your point, and your point missed mine in each case. Individuality is not an empirical phenomenon; it is a distinction of language and thought. Unless you are afflicted by TheGodComplex, your repeated assertions to the contrary lack a logical basis. Your unwillingness to explain them constitutes ArgumentumAdNauseam?, I think. Then again we ably explicate my boxers, so I'm entertained - say on.

If you'd followed my link you'd know both that I prefer the TransactionalInterpretation and that I've employed it on wiki to discuss these same subjects. TI is still NonLocal, hence "smeared out across the universe" is a fair statement. However you choose to interpret QM, you're still stuck with NonLocality. Again these issues aren't relevant to this page.

If you read that paper, you'd know my quote is describing the transactional interpretation. While it is non-local, it doesn't mean there are 2 cats in the same place at the same time. -- EH

It's an interpretation; it doesn't alter the math. Copenhagen is still a valid interpretation too, as is Many-Worlds and the rest. We don't have any empiricism that rules any of these out. So while you may dislike the 2 cats, they remain valid. Even under the TI your snowflakes interfere with each other across all spacetime.

You're getting lost. Nothing in Copenhagen, MWI or TI puts two cats in the same place at the same time. It isn't like or dislike; there's only one cat. -- EH

Let's consider each:
 [...] "Look close! In my hand
 I have Little Cat V.
 On his head are Cats W,
 X, Y and Z.
 Z is too small to see.
 So don't try. You can not.
 But Z is the cat
 Who will clean up that spot!
 Now here is the Z
 You can't see," said the Cat.
 "And I bet you can't guess
 What he has in HIS hat!
 He has something called VOOM.
 Voom is so hard to get,
 You never saw anything
 Like it, I bet."


Your point missed the page thesis in any case. Individuality is not an empirical phenomenon; it is a distinction of language and thought. Unless you are afflicted by TheGodComplex, your repeated assertions to the contrary lack a logical basis. Your unwillingness to explain them constitutes ArgumentumAdNauseam?, I think. Then again we ably explicate my boxers, so I'm entertained - say on.

Why isn't individuality an empirical phemomenon? -- EH

Can you provide any empirical basis for it? If not you may as well ask why angels and unicorns aren't empirical phenomena.

Sure, I can observe and record individuals. Can you answer my question? -- EH

You can observe light and record video. You interpret the light and the video, and thereby you distinguish individuals. You have provided no empirical method for doing that except for your human ability, which is ad hoc and fallible. If you wish to refute the thesis of this page the burden of providing some counterexample remains with you.

If you maintain that observations of light can never be used to measure physical reality, then you are a solipsist and no one can communicate with you about anything.

Thanks for the RedHerring, I'll give it to my seal for approval. Now try re-reading what I wrote. If you have a counter-example to the thesis, by all means lets consider it.

If that isn't what you're saying, please clarify it. It sounds like you're saying that there is no such thing as "empirical", since all of our abilities are fallible human abilities.

I'm saying your method requires a human to make a value judgement about whether the light and video represent an individual. With empiric qualities, I can, at least in theory, construct some physical apparatus to distinguish their presence from their absence. Your "individuality" can be tested only by having you in the room and asking you whether you think that what you see represents an individual or not. Put another human in the room and you get a different answer. Therefore your "empiricism" for individuality comes down to nothing but your unsubstantiated opinion.

A human is physical apparatus.

AssumingTheAntecedent?? Still let's stipulate a moment. Replace one human with another, or the same one after a couple of cocktails, or after I pay 'em five bucks. Whoops, different worldview, different value system, different distinctions.

I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. We rely on reproducibility to minimize error. Are you saying we can't reproduce the distinction between individuals? What are you saying?

I'm saying the observation relies on human value judgements which embody no particular distinction. And I suggest you assume the antecedent because you speak of a (1) individual human making the distinction for you.

If you wish to prove the thesis of this page, the burden is on you. Why isn't individuality an empirical phenomenon?

Review the ScientificMethod. You can't prove a thesis empirically; you can only disprove it.

I'm not asking you to prove your thesis empirically. I'm asking why individuality isn't an empirical phenomenon. You made that claim. I see no basis for it. If you have none, I'll ignore it. -- EH

Can you weigh a rainbow? Why not? If you can't prove you can't weigh a rainbow then I'll ignore any claim that you can't.

I can weigh the light in a rainbow. I assume you have no reason for saying individuality isn't an empirical phenomenon. -- EH

I didn't ask you to weigh the light in a rainbow, which is of course nonsense anyway because light has no mass. I asked you to weigh the rainbow. Now cut out the sophistry and get to it. I have a rainbow out the window right now and I want to sell it by the pound to the little man in the green hat who lives right next door to your grasp on reality. He has his own pot of gold, you know.

The rainbow is light. I can weigh that light. I get 0 grams. Therefore the rainbow weighs 0 grams. You still won't even try to answer my question. -- EH

The rainbow is not light; it is an experience of the behaviour of light, water, wind, the ground, the clouds, and so on. Light doesn't weigh 0 grams; it doesn't have mass at all. Likewise, sound doesn't appear black; it has no appearance at all. Likewise, individuality, as a value judgement, has no empiricism at all.

And I repeat: You mix two categories. One of you seems to speak of individuality (a psychological or maybe meta-physical category) and the other of distinctness - to use another word and avoid overloading, which is a physical category. -- .gz

Distinctness clearly isn't physical, because you can use different mental categories to make different distinctions. Music by loudness and softness, or by tonality, or by theme, or by ... any number of schemes. And in each one you'll make different distinctions. You seem under the illusion that there are sharp canonical edges around the objects in your world, as if edged with black ink in a comic book. The reason the quantum results are relevant here is that, no matter how closely you look, no matter what empiricism you apply, some canonical god-given concept of distinctness does not appear in the empiricism. The universe is fuzzy, wavy, smeared out, intermixed, and generally messy, no matter what instruments you use. Sorting it into distinct things is something you do, yourself, not something handed down from on high. At best, your categories agree with those of the folks around you to the extent that thoughts can flow between you.

Individuality isn't a psychological or metaphysical category. Houghton Mifflin says: "The aggregate of qualities and characteristics that distinguish one person or thing from others" and "A single, distinct entity." -- EH

Ain't dictionaries wonderful? How like snowflakes they are!


This discussion diverges to physics (by use of analogy) which is a category error and to make matters worse this analogy doesn't give anything in return. I propose to drop it or make clear where it relates and factor the remains out. -- .gz

The boxers are physical and we are physical. We are individuals. There is no illusion of individuality, there is actual individuality. -- EH

But individuality is no physical category. It's a psychological one. And just because the same word is used that doesn't imply that all corresponding relations hold. -- .gz

Huh? Individuality is a psychological category because it's a physical category. Or are you denying there's a reality outside your awareness and giving us more solipsism? -- EH

The psychological categories are emergent properties of the physical categories of course. But the psychological categories relevant to individuality are different from the physical ones and have quite different properties and preconditions. It's easy to give examples where psychological individuals are not physical ones and vice versa. -- .gz

And? -- EH

And therefore claims based on physical identity are an fallacious ArgumentByAnalogy. -- .gz

Sorry, still not following you. You're saying that even though boxers are distinct individuals, our mental models of them can't be distinct, and if we think they are, then that's just an illusion? -- EH

My point went into an entirely different direction. I didn't want to derive or justify any connection between physical and psychological identity. Quite the opposite. Whether boxers are distinct physical entities doesn't directly imply anything about them being or not being distinct psychological being or being mentally represented as such (and vice versa). Of course there is some very complicated relation between these two domains (via cell chemistry, neuropsychology...) but the meaning of "individual" certainly doesn't lift 1-to-1 from physics to psychology. I wanted to point out that doing so is ArgumentByAnalogy. And there are surely lots of counterexamples to illustrate this. -- .gz

You lost me there. It isn't a fallacy to say that there are 2 boxers in the ring and my mind made models of both of them. It isn't an argument by analogy. It's what brains do. -- EH

I don't disagree. My focus was on the discussion following The feeling that you or I am somehow unique, different from all the other yous or Is, this IllusionOfIndividuality [is it.] Maybe my post was misleadingly positioned. -- .gz Coming into this conversation late, but heck, I'll give it a shot.

I didn't want to derive or justify any connection between physical and psychological identity.

Since we think with a physical organ, our brain, and it is our thinking that provides the basis of psychological identity, I'm not sure how you could separate the two. At all. Ever. The very thoughts of "I" by both the boxers are unique as the organ that produced them. Do the boxers share the same concept of individuality? Probably not. Because, I think, ever concept is really derived in association with other concepts. Perhaps one boxer believe "I" is an extension of his family. The other believes "I" is a product of society. Whatever, it doesn't matter. -- ScottNeumann

Every concept ... sure, and if individuality is an artifact of belief, that seems the end of the matter.


I didn't want to derive or justify any connection between physical and psychological identity.

Since we think with a physical organ, our brain, and it is our thinking that provides the basis of psychological identity, I'm not sure how you could separate the two. At all. Ever. The very thoughts of "I" by both the boxers are unique as the organ that produced them.

What does it mean, "to think"? In the absence of any empirical distinction, we must fall back on observable processes - in particular, "to represent". Hence the LeibnizianDefinitionOfConsciousness. Representation is something we can watch you do, and we can watch your neurons do; thinking, except in terms of a process of representation, appears to be a popular myth. But representation is obviously not a process localized to your physical organ, your brain.

Ignoring this we may crack your skull with instruments of science and see a brain, but we still can't see you thinking with it. You may insist, dogmatically, that there's no other organ you can think with, but that's simple faith, not science. There are more neurons in your gut and spine, combined, than in your brain. And all of these neurons interact intimately with the neurons of everyone around you all the time. These words you type are plentiful evidence that the majority of your neurons have been trained by shared cultural processes beyond any puny mortal thoughts. [Hulk Smash!]

As to whether your "I" is distinct from my "I" - well, WhatsaDistinction between them? If you prick me, don't I clot? What more is there between your I and my I than between the piano note and its echo?

Do the boxers share the same concept of individuality? Probably not. Because, I think, every concept is really derived in association with other concepts. Perhaps one boxer believes "I" is an extension of his family. The other believes "I" is a product of society. Whatever, it doesn't matter. -- ScottNeumann

Every concept ... sure, and if individuality is an artifact of belief that seems the end of the matter.
"A thought doesn't care whether it is thought by you or by me."

A thought doesn't care, period.

So?

So don't anthropomorphize thought.

How have I anthropomorphized thought?

By writing "A thought doesn't care whether it is thought by you or by me."

How does that anthropomorphize thought? It is both true and necessary framing for what follows. Are you a literary critic now?

"As you read this, your understanding is no different from mine as I write it."

Obviously, my understanding of what you write is very different from your understanding. You seem to understand what you write, while I don't.

You plainly understand it - or else you wouldn't argue with it. You may not understand thoughts connected to it just as nobody can see all the ripples on a river.

No, I promise I don't understand what you write. If we weren't individuals you would understand that already.

If anyone is suffering from TheGodComplex here, it is you. We aren't you. You don't think for us.

If individuality is an illusion, the thoughts flow around and around - now I read them, now I write them, now you read them, now you write them - and "you" and "I" are just more thoughts, nothing special about either of us. As for God, if individuality is an illusion, then at best GodIsSomethingYouDo - not something to be.

"I" am not a thought. I am an animal that thinks.

If "I" is not a thought, then is there no thought of "I"? Can you express being an animal without first thinking it? You think you are an animal and you think you think ... this way to the VonNeumannCatastrophe.

The thought of "I" is a thought. DontEatTheMenu. -- EH

Ceci n'est pas un mot.


This reminds me of an idea that popped up, I think it was on EmbryonicStemCellResearch?. Human existence is somewhat like an Aspen grove. The individual trees of an Aspen grove are really shoots off the root system of a single plant. They appear to be individual trees to the above-ground observer, but they are really all part of the same plant.

This imagery of Humanity came to me when I read an interview with CarlSagan. The reporter knew of Sagan's atheistic WorldView, and asked him what he thought of abortion. He hoped Sagan would give a scientific answer to the question "When does human life begin?" Sagan's answer was that, inside the bodies of living humans are living cells that, when joined with other living cells from another living human, grow into living humans with living cells in their bodies that will join with living cells from another living human. Human life is a never-ending process, unless we end it. It reminded me of the Aspen grove.

Now, this is an interesting way to view humanity if there is only the physical. If there is more, like a spirit, this imagery falls short. What I see in IllusionOfIndividuality is really a discussion of the spirit. Are our spirits really just PopUps? Places where the UniversalMind manifests itself sporadically in our 4 dimensions. Or, are our spirits unique? I see no evidence for the former; but I have found considerable evidence for the latter. In my WorldView, all are individuals who are held acountable for their actions. The consequences of our individual FreeWill life choices, in this WorldView, can be diametrically opposite and eternal. -- BrucePennington

Consider it in the light of the LeibnizianDefinitionOfConsciousness, Bruce. At the top of the hierarchy there would be identity, a constant.

Thanks for the link. I like it. I think what I'm hearing, though, is that since there seems to be a natural flow, or progression in consciousness, THEN, it means we are all connected? I would conceded that it is a possible conclusion; but not the only, or even the likely conclusion. It is a pretty concept. Very clean and attractive. But I see RealLife as a little messier, a little dirtier that that. What do you do with Evil in this model? -- BrucePennington


Having read this article (which I thought for a while was authored by a single mind) I liken it to this half-baked analogy (I apologise now) to make sense of it all...

Imagine two snowflakes falling from their point of origin (without getting too hung-up on the physics) on the same day at the same (point in) time, like leaves falling from a tree, but falling toward a boxing ring canvas - just the two of them (perhaps the canvas is a rippling pool of water). From received wisdom we know that the two flakes are observably unique, but which will hit the canvas first? They are influenced similarly by their environment yet they will both eventually reach the canvas and melt (place your bets) like decaying leaves, and become observably the same. You could argue that despite their form and circumstance, they are both pointlessly unique, yet both pointlessly the same. And if you disagree, then that's where you and I differ!

"...was authored by a single mind."

Ah, the irony...


FebruaryZeroSeven

See also: DramaticIdentity, PartingPhilosophersProblem, ApproachAvoidanceGradient, UniversalMind

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